It’s a spandrel (sort of . . .)!

Well, in your collective wisdom you’ve guessed it, as I knew you would.  These are in fact The Spandrels of San Marco (as one astute reader pointed out, they’re not really spandrels but pendentives) from the Basilica di San Marco in Venice.  I visited the building not a week ago, and was marvelling at the architecture and its fantastic mosaics.  As I was doing so, I recognized the spandrels (pendentives), each of which, as in my photograph of yesterday, contains a decoration.  And I suddenly realized, “Holy shit, these are the spandrels of San Marco!”  And so I photographed them.

They are famous for more than their mosaics: they are the ostensible topic of a famous paper by Steve Gould and Richard Lewontin (my Ph.D advisor), to wit:  Gould, S. J., and R. C. Lewontin. 1979. The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm:  a critique of the adaptationist program. Proc. Roy. Soc. London B 205:581-598.  The point of the article, made in its introduction given below, was that although spandrels harbor decorations, they were not put there by the architect as a surface to be decorated. Rather, spandrels (or pendentives, excuse me), are the necessary byproduct of placing a dome on top of arches and columns.  And, like many features of organisms, spandrels are byproducts.

Gould and Lewontin pointed out that many traits of animals and plants were not the direct objects of natural selection, but reflect other processes.  For example, blood is red not because it’s adaptive for blood to be red (I suppose an ardent sociobiologist could say that the red color makes blushes evident, which conveys emotions, etc. etc., but of course moles have red blood too!), but that the color is a byproduct of selection for an oxygen-carrying molecule, hemoglobin, that just happens to be red. In other words, it’s pleiotropy: a non-adaptive byproduct of an adaptation. In section 5 of their paper, G&L list many other ways that the traits of plants and animals can be nonadaptive.

This paper is famous because the authors were famous, because it’s very well written, but most of all because it posed a direct attack on the “Panglossian paradigm”: the view that sociobiology wants to explain all traits, particularly human behaviors, as the direct products of selection.  This paper has been the subject of furious discussion and at least one book.  In my view, the paper made some valid points but went overboard in its criticism of the adaptationist program, which, after all, has produced lots of insights about evolution.  I knew Gould, who was on my thesis committee, and it always seemed like pulling teeth to get him to admit that natural selection was even a relatively important force in evolution.  If pressed, he would, but Gould always preferred (perhaps for political reasons) to emphasize the limitations of selection.  Lewontin was not nearly so extreme.

You can find the original article here or (original journal pdf) here.  It’s worth reading it if you haven’t before, even if you disagree with much of the message.

The opening is pure Gould:

The great central dome of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice presents in its mosaic design a detailed iconography expressing the mainstays of Christian faith. Three circles of figures radiate out from a central image of Christ: angels, disciples, and virtues. Each circle is divided into quadrants, even though the dome itself is radially symmetrical in structure. Each quadrant meets one of the four spandrels in the arches below the dome. Spandrels-the tapering triangular spaces formed by the intersection of two rounded arches at right angles are necessary architectural byproducts of mounting a dome on rounded arches. Each spandrel contains a design admirably fitted into its tapering space. An evangelist sits in the upper part flanked by the heavenly cities. Below, a man representing one of the four biblical rivers (Tigris, Euphrates, Indus, and Nile) pours water from a pitcher in the narrowing space below his feet.

(this image at http://www.bun.kyoto-u.ac.jp/ ~suchii/spandrel.html)

The design is so elaborate, harmonious, and purposeful that we are tempted to view it as the starting point of any analysis, as the cause in some sense of the surrounding architecture. But this would invert the proper path of analysis. The system begins with an architectural constraint: the necessary four spandrels and their tapering triangular form. They provide a space in which the mosaicists worked; they set the quadripartite symmetry of the dome above.

Such architectural constraints abound, and we find them easy to understand because we do not impose our biological biases upon them. Every fan-vaulted ceiling must have a series of open spaces along the midline of the vault, where the sides of the fans intersect between the pillars. Since the spaces must exist, they are often used for ingenious ornamental effect. In King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, for example, the spaces contain bosses alternately embellished with the Tudor rose and portcullis. In a sense, this design represents an “adaptation,” but the architectural constraint is clearly primary. The spaces arise as a necessary by-product of fan vaulting; their appropriate use is a secondary effect. Anyone who tried to argue that the structure exists be-cause the alternation of rose and portcullis makes so much sense in a Tudor chapel would be inviting the same ridicule that Voltaire heaped on Dr. Pangloss: “Things cannot be other than they are… Everything is made for the best purpose. Our noses were made to carry spectacles, so we have spectacles. Legs were clearly intended for breeches, and we wear them.” Yet evolutionary biologists, in their tendency to focus exclusively on immediate adaptation to local conditions, do tend to ignore architectural constraints and perform just such an inversion of explanation.

Read the rest; it’s certainly one of the most important papers in modern evolutionary biology.

45 Comments

  1. Slim
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    This site is turning into an interesting place to hang out.

    “I knew Gould, who was on my thesis committee, and I always thought that it was like pulling teeth to get him to admit that natural selection was even an relatively important force in evolution. If pressed, he would, but he always liked (perhaps for political reasons)..”

    Exactly. That’s about all that needs to be said, and Coyne is being exceedingly generous here (perhaps out of personal respect). Gould was a Marxist who allowed his political views to cloud his science. He overlapped science and politics and was astoundingly naive about overlapping science and religion.

    He poisoned many minds, and has confused the basics of ENS for a generation.

    • Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Gould was also a baseball fanatic which should be a red flag (Marxist?). I’ve been a Yankees fan since 1948 and refuse to give up on them just because they are winning.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Yes, Gould was a Marxist and Richard Lewontin was even more so and there’s plenty of evidence for this, it’s not like he his it, though in his last years slightly modified his Marxism. Christopher Hitchens was also Marxist and openly so, though he has turned considerably since 9-11. Sad that’s what it takes for the secular left to come to its senses.

        Gould’s Marxism and radical liberalism clouded his scientific views and he polluted scientific understanding because of them.

        Gould was a good scientist, obviously. However, it is commonly understood his major ideas such as Spandrels, Punctuated Equilibrium, NOMA are limited at best, useless to most and joke for sure.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        I understand Newton experimented with alchemy. Is it possible for the human mind to venture into the unknown and avoid what appears later to be folly?

        The safety valve is the critical thinking of the student otherwise we become the machines we design.

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        Uh, sure there oldfuzz.

        Still doesn’t make Gould right though.

        Alfred Russel Wallace was a spiritualist and was right for the most part about Natural Selection.

        I wrote an academic paper on this once and used Gould’s essay “Natural Selection and the Human Brain” as my foil.

        Here is quote from my paper.

        “Dissecting Wallace’s beliefs was what the Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould did not have in mind when he wrote the essay “Natural Selection and the Human Brain”. But, in that essay, Gould tells us that Wallace rejected the idea that the human brain could have evolved by the process of natural selection alone. Wallace could not imagine the brain having evolved to encapsulate all the creativity found in the society of his time [Read: England, circa 1860’s] and still, according to his view, “savages” roamed the earth with the potentiality to produce cultural significant work. In the place of natural selection at the point of human consciousness, Wallace tells us a supernatural force, God, must be the explanation of such an accomplishment.”

      • Slim
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Oldfuzz

        Just so I’m clear here, since my snippet from my paper may appear to go off from my point, that Stephen J. Gould’s Marxist, radical liberal views greatly effected his scientific ideas, teaching and writings.

        It contributed to why he was WRONG. His political beliefs had great consequence on his scientific beliefs and what he advocated for and against scientifically. Though, this doesn’t make me necessarily pro-Dennett/Dawkins simply because both, though Dawkins to a much greater degree has poisoned scientific understanding in many cases because of his political views and ideologically driven anti-religiousness. That last one is evident throughout much of his work, from “mind virus” metaphor via the Memetic science (both Dennett & Dawkins here, very influential) to certain claims of a universal law of strict Darwinism.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Your points regarding Gould, Dawkins, and Dennet are on target for me. There is a danger anytime an expert in one field ventures into another, especially, even their own, when they take their personal baggage along.

        In the foreword to Science and Creationism, Ashley Montagu (one for whose writings I can be blind-eyed) wrote, “Science is about proof without certainty and bigotry is about certainty without proof.” The bigotry of which he wrote was creationism.

        I know my Mom loved me, but I can’t prove it.

  2. Slim
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I cut the quote off, my apologies.

    “If pressed, he would, but he always liked (perhaps for political reasons) to emphasize the limitations of selection.”

  3. Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    “it’s certainly one of the most important papers in modern evolutionary biology.”

    Beautifully done. I find it interesting that the posting is on the Weslyan University website, a university founded by Methodists which follow John Wesley’s admonition to “think and let think.”

    When I read this and consider the debate (conflict?) surrounding emerging scientific ideas; e.g., “a critique of the adaptationist programme”, I find an answer to my discomfort in the use of the accommodationist label.

    While I consider accommodationism a failure of intellectual courage, I consider inclusionism, the mantra of “think and let think” to be a preferred personal quality.

    Within both science and religion there are differing views. Allowing people to have theirs and pursue the new is the prevailing mode within both domains.

    In my amateurish quest to understand speciation I found no precise definition for the term, species. In my quest to understand the difference between life and non-life, I found no specific definition of the term, “life.” This does not deter biologists from their pursuits.

    Why, then, are the religious faulted for their inability to precisely define their belief in a transcendent creative source?

    • Yakaru
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Think and let think is a fine sentiment, and it is exactly what accommodationists are not doing.

      As I see it, religious people are quite rightly faulted when they oppose science. Accommodationists are quite rightly faulted when they present poor arguments and implore atheists to be “polite” (read dishonest and patronising) to win supposed political advantages.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Agreed. There’s plenty of room within science and non-science, of which religion is a part, for free-thinking and debate. I wish I had written your words (hope this is not an accommodation).

    • newenglandbob
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      In my amateurish quest to understand speciation I found no precise definition for the term, species.

      There is a book that has an entire chapter on this. The book is “Why Evolution is True” by {what-is-his-name?}.

      oldfuzz, I don’t think the religious are faulted for their inability to precisely define their belief, but are faulted for being unmovable in their beliefs based upon no evidence.

      • Posted November 29, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I’ll read it. I started it several months ago, but found nothing of compelling interest since I am a complete subscriber to ToE. If my memory serves, which it has been known to fail, it was {what’s his name} or his partner who wrote in “Speciation” his (their) difficulty in holding a firm definition of species. I’ll check that out as well.

        What about “life?” Is there a clear definition of that anywhere?

        As for “the religious… (being) faulted for being unmovable in their beliefs based upon no evidence.”, my point would be that religious belief is strictly about a view based on no evidence. It’s the unmoving religious who, denying all evidence, shroud the progressive (for want of a better, less hubristic word) religious who alter their beliefs as new evidence is acquired.

        The fundamentalist creationist is to the progressive religious as would be a scientist who cites the basic elements as being wind, fire, earth and water to a modern scientist.

        For me, the simple question is, “Do you believe in a transcendent causation?”; i.e., Are there causative forces at work that are beyond the present known and most likely beyond all human knowing?

        I believe they are and call that the Source because saying God is such an inflammatory term.

    • Notagod
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Why, then, are the religious faulted for their inability to precisely define their belief in a transcendent creative source?

      Maybe because christians (yes, and the other ones too, their all the same, basically) claim perfect and unquestionable knowledge from and sometimes of, a perfect sky thingy that they can’t define nor describe in any reasonable terms. ‘But damn, its there and you better believe it’, gets freak’n old after the first thousands of years. They’ve got their perfect bibel that is so wrong that it can only be used at most a few verses at a time and even at that it requires a twisted explanation to achieve what the preacher would like it to mean, at least this time round.

      When you claim perfection you best have something to back it up.

  4. Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I was there (one of the speakers) at the London meeting of the Royal Society, where the Spandrels paper was first presented (by Gould; Lewontin didn’t come). Before Gould spoke, the talk by Clutton-Brock and Harvey substantially anticipated the Spandrels paper and undermined its central thesis. All of us were eager to hear how Gould would deal with Clutton-Brock and Harvey’s devastating critique of what they guessed (from previous publications) he would say. In the event, Gould totally ignored Clutton-Brock and Harvey, and gave his prepared paper, playing for horse laughs from the gallery, as if nothing had happened. It was the beginning of my disillusionment with Gould, whom I had previously respected. Please, if you read the Spandrels paper, look first at the Clutton-Brock and Harvey paper, in the same volume published by the Royal Society, 1979.

    Richard Dawkins

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t know about the paper Richard mentions, but I’ve found the citation and a URL link for those who want to follow the debate (I’m reading it)

      T. H. Clutton-Brock and P. H. Harvey
      Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, Vol. 205, No.
      1161, The Evolution of Adaptation by Natural Selection (Sep. 21, 1979), pp. 547-565
      Published by: The Royal Society
      Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/77445

    • Marlene Zuk
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Some more insight into the circumstances surrounding the spandrels paper and the Royal Society meeting is in Ullica Segerstrale’s fascinating book “Defenders of the Truth: the Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond”. The author is a sociologist of science who analyzes that whole period and interviewed many of the protagonists. Highly recommended!

    • Posted November 29, 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      This sort of argument-by-ambush is a fine example of why science is conducted in writing, not by debate.

      Not, BTW, that I know *anything* about the subject. The gist of is seems to be that some people think that some features of living things happen as a nessesary consequence of other things (that are selected for) and are not selected for in themselves. Other people seem to think that more-or-less by definition if a living thing has it, then it must have been selected, or perhaps that it’s meaningless to split up the selected-for and not-selected-for bits.

      Beats me what the point is. Myself – I don’t think I’m a marxist. When it comes to nature, I’m more an existentialist. Nature is, stuff happens, and after a point there’s not much gain in trying to hang labels on what happens. (Although up to that point, it’s very, very important and useful indded.) “Natural Selection” is a reification – one of the bad grammatical habits of english.

      • Posted December 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        No, Natural Selection is not reification: ‘selection’ is an abstract noun, not a concrete one, and simply refers to a process of stuff happening. If you want to criticise reification, you could start in on theology…

    • Posted December 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Very much interested, Professor Dawkins. Thank you for citing this! And thanks to the commenter below for providing a link to Clutton-Brock.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    the color is a byproduct of selection for an oxygen-carrying molecule, hemoglobin, that just happens to be red. In other words, it’s pleiotropy: a non-adaptive byproduct of an adaptation. In section 5 of their paper, G&L list many other ways that the traits of plants and animals can be nonadaptive.

    That is interesting. I would have thought that “red”, as byproduct and not (once) a function, wasn’t considered a biological trait.

    According to Wikipedia [yes, I know, but I haven’t read the man – please bear with me!] Dawkins considers the extended phenotype, which later I take it is a set of traits, as “the effects a gene has on the outside world that may influence its chances of being replicated”. I.e. he defines a trait as necessarily (have been) a result of selection, or in other words to (have once) fulfilled a function. That leaves Gould’s and Lewontin’s definition of trait, whatever that is, out in the cold.

    Apparently I need to read both Gould and Dawkins to see exactly what is considered a trait and why. For example, are body length and/or its variation traits? Dogs seem to say that it isn’t much of a trait in them. (Chihuahua vs grand danois.)

    Hmm. Confusing. I like the idea of trait as function (or process), that would clarify much for me and make the genotype/phenotype mapping intuitively clear. A seemingly random set of characteristics, not so much.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      [Blushing] D’oh! Speak of the devil… I didn’t update – I will take my coat and go now. 😀

  6. tomh
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Slim wrote:
    “…Dawkins to a much greater degree has poisoned scientific understanding in many cases because of his political views and ideologically driven anti-religiousness.”

    Are you serious? Dawkins has “poisoned scientific understanding”? Since the 1970’s Dawkins could lay a claim to introducing more people to evolution and science than any living human. Perhaps his anti-religionism hurts your feelings, but the fact is that his string of popular evolution-oriented books is unequaled. Far from poinsoning scientific understanding he is responsible for spreading understanding.

    • Onychomys
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Although it’s certainly true that Dawkins has been a wonderful science educator, he’s been kind of a piddling actual scientist. It’s been somewhere around 40 years since his last research article. Additionally, his big idea, that genes are the unit of selection, has largely faded from favor and hasn’t really led to the sort of new understanding of selection that he’d like you to believe it has. In a lot of ways, he’s had a similar career to Carl Sagan, where he’s beloved by the public (…except that I don’t think Sagan ever got death threats from Christians!) but largely ignored by the scientific community.

      Let me be clear: I am not trying in any way to imply this is a bad thing. Quite the contrary – both Sagan and Dawkins did more for improving the long-term outlook of science as a part of our society than Gould, Lewontin, or (sorry!) our host here has done. But they did so by increasing funding and awareness, not by any really useful scientific breakthrough.

      • bueller007
        Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:04 am | Permalink

        This is a rather silly comment.

        Sagan has hundreds of research articles, many of them highly cited, with some of them cited hundreds of times each. Just because YOU don’t know about his research doesn’t mean he wasn’t extremely active and well-respected as a researcher in his field. (He would have been a legendary scientist even if he had never published a single popular book.)

        Dawkins on the other hand has admittedly few research papers–he was after all writing books and appointed to a distinguished chair for public education–but is perhaps more responsible for changing the way we think about evolution than any other scientist since Ron Fisher. (True, he merely popularized Williams’, Hamilton’s and Trivers’ ideas, but with such incredible force that his influence on modern evolutionary biology is undeniable.)

        For right or wrong, “the selfish gene” and “the extended phenotype” are the way that most behavioural ecologists and many evolutionary biologists regularly go about their business. It’s simply untrue when you say that the selfish gene has faded from view. There are certain phenomena that can only be explained from the viewpoint of genic selection. For all other situations, genic selection appears to be available as an explanation (although some would argue that it gets the causality wrong). The importance of the ‘selfish gene’ concept is that it provides a more general theory of natural selection.

        Read “The Return of the Gene” by Sterelny and Kitcher, or “The Extended Replicator” by Sterelny et al. if you want a more mature vision of Dawkins’ work.

  7. Darek
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Gould was a Marxist who allowed his political views to cloud his science.

    I think your anti-marxism, anti-anti-religiousness affects your views.

    Find that ridiculous? Now reread what you’ve been writing.

    • Michelle B
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Darek: anti-anti-religiousness…
      ______

      Maybe Slim will fall off one of his divine turtles and get hurtled into cyberspace, never to be heard from again? Impossible! He will be lofted back up on his own patented form of hot wind so he can continue to cheerfully chirp his twittering twits of chirpiness.

      Anyway, fascinating post and comments by Dawkins and Larsson.

  8. Steve
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    No signed copy of your book for remembering the word pendentive?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Not this time, but you get a WARM HANDSHAKE!

      • Steve
        Posted November 29, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Ahhh… it’s okay, I actually looked it up.

  9. Posted November 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of the Spandrels…

    Nielsen, R. (2009). ADAPTIONISM-30 YEARS AFTER GOULD AND LEWONTIN Evolution, 63 (10), 2487-2490 DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00799.x

    I discussed the Nielsen article at my blog last week, it moves from The Spandrels to contemporary times in order to assess what valuable lessons have been gleaned from that momentous (???) work of 30-years past…

  10. MadScientist
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Pangloss has many adherents still (even though they may not know it). There are still so many people who claim that some trait or other is an evolutionary adaptation; “fine” I say, “but where is your evidence?”

  11. MadScientist
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the Clutton-Brock/Harvey reference; unfortunately I can only read the abstract until I get back to a university. 🙂 Just got a copy of The greatest Show on Earth and looking forward to reading it. Still no sign of Why Evolution is True in this backwater capital though.

  12. Occam
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    May I bring my archaeologists’s perspective to bear on this for a moment?
    Gould/Lewontin 1979 is notorious, not to say infamous, among those very few historians of architecture who care about such things, for being obliquely off-base, albeit in a learned and literate fashion.

    The main architectonic flaw of the argument is that Gould/Lewontin seem to ignore the evolution of the structural feature they use as an analogy, and then misuse as a metaphore.

    One of the best-informed critiques was written by the aptly named Robert Mark in the American Scientist in 1996. It addresses the pendentives-versus-squinches question. It still is available online, but there seems to be a problem with the images:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20020118023602/http://www.americanscientist.org/articles/96articles/Mark-full.html

    A brief historical aperçu:
    As to building history, San Marco, as the main church of Venice and the palatine chapel of the doge (the city’s chief magistrate), was constructed between 1063 and about 1095 A. D. and was consciously based on the five-domed Greek cross sixth-century Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, long ago destroyed. Pendentives, which may have been deployed as early as the late second century to provide necessary support for domes set above four piers, came to prominence with the completion in Constantinople in 537 of Justinian’s Hagia Sophia. Not surprisingly, therefore, pendentives were used also in the Justinianic Church of the Holy Apostles and much later on in its replica, San Marco. Although the central dome of San Marco, just short of 13 meters in diameter, is much smaller than the 31-meter-diameter dome of Hagia Sophia, it is considerably larger than typical Byzantine domes constructed after the Justinian era. Without benefit of detailed stress analysis, it cannot be definitively argued that squinches-or, as suggested by Dennett, even an array of brackets-might suffice for supporting the San Marco central dome. But bear in mind that the process of structural design in the prescientific era was largely based on lessons learned from observing the behavior of earlier buildings. Hence I strongly doubt that a sixth- or an 11th-century builder would have dared consider any system other than pendentives to support a dome of San Marco’s scale set over four piers.

  13. Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    “he’s [Dawkins] been kind of a piddling actual scientist.” –Onychomys

    “He [Gould] poisoned many minds, and has confused the basics of ENS for a generation.” –Slim

    It’s amazing how much ignorant disrespect occurs here.

    I would argue that Gould has had a major impact on the field. Among his contributions, he brought attention to allometry, the role of ontogeny in shaping evolutionary trajectories, exaptation versus adaptation, hierarchy, null models of phylogeny and the idea of morphospace, developmental constraints, and large-scale trends in evolution. You can argue that others also talked about this stuff but his contributions are highly cited and continue to be relevant.

    Dawkins book, the Selfish Gene, revolutionized an entire new perspective across numerous evolutionary disciplines. He also brought attention to animal signaling, disentangling kin selection, ESS theory and cheating, evolutionary perspectives on memory, memes, evolutionary computer simulations, not to mention he trained the sublime Alan Grafen (and Mark Ridley), among others. You can argue that others also talked about this stuff but his contributions are highly cited and continue to be relevant.

    • Tulse
      Posted November 30, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Gould’s book Ontogeny and Phylogeny is arguably a very important step in the recognition of evo-devo as a field. And it would be hard to overestimate his impact in the popularizing evolutionary biology, and in fighting creationism.

    • Slim
      Posted December 1, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Richard Dawkins hasn’t been a practicing scientist for over 30 years!

      He’s only 68 now, do the math when that paper was presented, and who the other guys are that Dawkins mentions.

      I’m not defending Gould, but Dawkins cracks me up. I just don’t think he’s being intellectually honest here. Long before this paper was presented Dawkins was inflamed and hardly respecting Gould mainly do to the emphasis of Punctuated Equlibrium.

      Do some science history folks.

      BTW, Gould was a Marxist (and radical leftest even after a little distance from Marxist – check his reference and boards he was on).

      @ Lawler re: Dawkins.

      Of the top of my head I could quote half a dozen instances I refer too.

      One from the other thread I put up was from A Devil’s Chaplain.

      “To describe religions as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both. I am often asked why I am so hostile to organized religion.”

      Of course, again, Dawkins wasn’t a scientist at the time of publication. But, Memetics are considered scientific and his use of metaphor is ideological, it is using science unethically. It’s NO secret. Gould did the same, but even though Gould’s is more politically driven (until the preposterous NOMA) and damaging to ENS – Dawkins’ is more harmful to general scientific understanding, period.

      Yes, I say these things as someone who religious and “anti-Marxist” (which Hitchens now refers to himself as, but it’s ok for him I guess, and used to be one). However, that makes them no less true, or myself unable to recognize my possible bias.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted December 1, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Yes, tell us 30 or 40 more times that you think Gould was a Marxist. We haven’t heard it enough yet. And please, bring up Hitchens 20 more times on this topic where it is irrelevant.

        By the way, was Gould a Marxist?

  14. Bill
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I used to give the Tim C-B and Harvey paper to my students to read along with the Spandrels paper, but I have given this up now (by students I mean 2nd year BSc level) – itconfuses them and Spandrels is good as students at that level are ‘promiscuous teleologists’ and slap adaptation over everything. It helps them think differently. Later, if they stay the course, then they get C-B and Harvey. And can I second Marlene Zuk – th Segerstrale book is brilliant

  15. Posted December 1, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Anyone desiring to improve their understanding of evolution would be doing themselves a service by reading both Gould and Dawkins’s works (i.e. both their popular books and their scientific publications). In my assessment, anyone willing to lob stones at the career of a scientist based on simplified interpretations does so from the shoulders of giants, and with little consideration for the ontogeny of the scientific process. The very fact that this debate is occurring speaks volumes.

  16. Posted December 1, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi Slim,

    I’m not really sure what you mean when you say “do the math…” Dawkins was 38 when this paper was presented; what is the significance of his age here? Clutton-Brock and Harvey were probably a little younger, but not by much. So what?

    You seem to imply that scientists are only ‘people who continually produce peer-reviewed journal articles’ and if a scientist produces popular books this negates their ability to understand and do science (i.e., they are NOT a scientist, according to you). I would disagree. Science is method that allows one to explain reality (or insert any definition of science here), not how many (or how few) papers you can rack up in peer-reviewed journals. Your reasoning would also suggest that Newton isn’t a scientist…perhaps he isn’t but it’s a strange criterion to hold onto. If Richard Dawkins and Richard Dawson (from Hogan’s Heroes and Family Feud) were queried about their knowledge of hypothesis testing, prediction, statistical analysis, deductive reasoning, experimental design, causation, etc., who would you bet on for better answering this query, Dawkins or Dawson? My money is on Dawkins for the simple reason that he was trained by Tinbergen, among others, to understand the process of scientific discovery. You’re welcome to bet on Dawson since, by your criteria, the odds are 50-50.

    I’m not sure how you arrive at the fact that Dawkins was anti-Gould before Dawkins himself says he was. Did Gould tell you this? My recollection, based only on publication dates, is that Eldredge published a paper in 71 on Punc Eq. Eldredge and Gould published their major one in 72 in the Schopf book. Dawkins’ SG book, which came out in 76, doesn’t rebut this topic and “speciation” or “punctuated equilibrium” are not in the index. In 77, Gould and Eldredge came out with their second major piece on Punc Eq (with the Marxist footnotes, etc) and perhaps here you might assume that this publication was what made Dawkins sour on Gould “long before” 1979 (to use your words), but again, I’m not sure how you arrive at this conclusion. The only place, I recall, that Dawkins takes on Punc Eq is in The Blind Watchmaker (1986).

    So I think I’m not only confused by the math, I’m also confused by your assertions.

    • Posted December 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

      The only place, I recall, that Dawkins takes on Punc Eq is in The Blind Watchmaker (1986).

      I’ve got to say upon reading that chapter (unlike the rest of the book), I came out of it feeling confused. I wasn’t sure what Dawkins was arguing against there, it seemed he wasn’t against punk eek so much as the misconception that punk eek and gradualism are at odds.

      Perhaps someone could clear this up for me since I was born only two years before The Blind Watchmaker was published. Me reading it in 2008 didn’t make sense as to what punk eek was exactly or what Dawkins was exactly arguing against. So was there some cultural “controversy” at the time which to me learning about evolution in the 21st century missed?

  17. Posted December 5, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you to Richard and Jerry for posting the rebuttal to Gould’s paper… I’ve read the “Spandrels” paper several times, but I hadn’t seen the Harvey paper.

  18. Posted July 22, 2013 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so much, However I am experiencing
    difficulties with your RSS. I don’t understand why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having the same RSS issues? Anyone who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!


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